The thrill of the wind blowing through your vest, the call of adventure, and the open road. There’s a reason why many people want to learn how to ride a motorcycle. At the same time, motorcycles can be dangerous if you aren’t confident in your skills and experienced at riding whichever bike you choose. So how hard is it to ride a motorcycle? Keep reading for the answers to all of your questions.
How Hard Is It to Ride a Motorcycle?
Maybe the potential danger has put you off learning how to ride a motorcycle, but you’ve never been able to fully put it out of your mind. With some consistent effort, it’s not as hard as you might have thought.
There are different types of motorcycles, each with their own weight and specifications, as well as a number of resources available to you to learn how to ride. It will take some work to find out which bikes you enjoy the most, as well as those that suit your body type the best, but the payoff is worth the work.
Let’s take a look at how to ride a motorcycle. We’ll also cover a quick overview of some of the more popular types of motorcycles to give you an idea of what to look for when you’re beginning your journey.
How You Can Learn to Ride a Motorcycle
Let’s say you’re just starting out with zero riding experience. You’re not sure of the difference between the brake and clutch lever, and you didn’t even know there were different types of motorcycles. Where should you start?
Motorcyclist Safety Program: MSP
The absolute best place you can start if you’re serious about learning how to ride a motorcycle is by looking up your state’s MSP, which stands for motorcyclist safety program. You’ll need to go to your local DMV first and get your Class M learner’s permit.
Similar to when you learned to drive a car, you’ll start out with a learner’s permit, which you can earn after taking a brief written exam. The exam is relatively straightforward. In most states, you can download the pamphlet to study before you take the exam. Once you pass, you’ll be given your new learner’s permit with a Class M designation (for motorcycle).
Similar to your original learner’s permit, there will be restrictions on what you can and can’t do until you actually take your Class M road test and earn a full motorcyclist’s license. These rules will vary slightly state by state so we won’t cover them here. Be sure that you’re always in compliance with local rules and ordinances, otherwise your motorcycling journey will end much quicker than you expected.
The MSP (sometimes called MSF for “Motorcycle Safety Foundation”) is the next step after receiving your learner’s permit. This is how we recommend you move forward with your motorcycle education. The benefit of the MSP is that you’ll have real-world, in-person experience in both a classroom and controlled practice sessions where you will get one-on-one instruction from experienced riders.
You’ll learn everything from starting and stopping, turning, obstacle avoidance, and all about the different types of motorcycles you can ride. If you’re just starting out and have no prior experience, the MSP is absolutely invaluable.
MSP courses usually take place over a few days and are similar to defensive driving courses in length. You’ll spend all weekend taking the course, but there are courses that are offered on non-consecutive days so those with busy schedules should be able to find a good option for them.
You’ll build basic riding skills. Most importantly, you will build your confidence as a motorcyclist in a controlled and safe setting before you get out on the road with other drivers. At the end of the MSP course, you will need to take both a written and practical skill exam.
If you pass the exam at the end of your MSP, your reward will be a full-fledged Class M driver’s license! That’s right, you can earn your Class M license all while building invaluable motorcycle knowledge and practical expertise in an instructional setting.
If you’re serious about learning to ride, the investment in an MSP course is invaluable. The course costs will vary by state and by county, but you should expect to spend a few hundred dollars on enrollment expenses.
Once you get your license, there are a few other things you’ll need to do before you buy your first bike and start to ride on public roads.
Insurance: Do You Really Need It?
In a word: absolutely. Don’t let anyone talk you out of purchasing insurance. Depending on the type of motorcycle you buy, purchasing insurance for it will likely be inexpensive, especially compared to the cost of what you’re protecting yourself against.
All major insurance carriers offer some form of motorcycle insurance. The unfortunate reality is that no matter how skilled a rider you become, you will always be more vulnerable to serious injury due to the nature of riding a motorcycle.
Just like with driving a car, you can be the most experienced and safe driver on the road, but that doesn’t mean other drivers will be safe. If you are involved in any kind of accident while on a motorcycle, insurance will be worth its weight in gold. Always be prepared so that if any accidents occur, you will have some peace of mind.
Proper Safety Gear
Do not be the motorcyclist wearing street clothes and a helmet, or even worse, a skull-cap style helmet. If you are involved in an accident, you will have absolutely no protection. Unfortunately, even with the proper gear, you will only have limited protection, but some protection is better than none.
Some riders build bad habits of overconfidence and think that their skills will help them avoid any accidents. While experience is important, other vehicles on the road can still make devastating mistakes that can lead to accidents.
No matter how experienced you are, jeans and a T-shirt will not help you avoid injury in the event of an accident. Quality safety equipment is expensive, but getting into an accident is far more expensive. At a minimum, your gear kit should look something like this:
- A full-head helmet
- Padded/armored vest
- Padded/armored pants
- Armored boots (tall or short, though tall offer the most protection)
- Armored gloves
Protective gear can get very expensive, but like everything else, there are different quality and price grades. In our opinion, you shouldn’t let price be an obstacle to safety. Buy the highest-quality safety gear you can afford. It will last you longer so you won’t have to replace it as often, and more importantly, it will keep you safe.
Buy a Used Starter Motorcycle
We’ve finally arrived at the fun part of your motorcycle journey: the part where you actually get to buy your own! Once the motorcycle license, safety gear, and insurance are out of the way, you can begin to research the best starter motorcycles.
While you’re taking your MSP course, you’ll learn all about the different types of motorcycles you can buy and what they’re best used for. We recommend starting with a standard or cruiser category motorcycle and avoiding the sport bikes for now.
Sport bikes are fun and go extremely fast, but they’re very finicky. If you give a slightly heavier flick of the wrist, you’ll be flying much faster than you intended. It’s best to learn how to handle the power of a motorcycle in a more forgiving model and then learn with a low-powered sports bike after you’ve built more experience and confidence. We promise you can eventually get the GSXR of your dreams but not as your first bike!
Standard motorcycles are the intro model. They’re jacks-of-all-trades, good at everything, forgiving, fun, and comfortable to drive. You wouldn’t want to take one on a cross-country tour, but they’re great bikes for building your skill level around town, riding to and from work, and anywhere else you’d like to go that’s close by.
You have some limited customization and modification options that can turn it into a sort of cruiser-hybrid. In theory, these will give you the ability to take longer duration rides, but they are probably unnecessary for now.
Standard bikes usually range from 250cc to 1000cc engines, but since this is your first bike, you should probably stick with the lower engine power level. Jumping displacement levels (cc value) can be quite jarring, so make sure you’re comfortable with the lower-powered engines first before you jump on a machine that’s too powerful for your experience level.
The other nice entry point with standard bikes is that they usually aren’t that heavy as far as motorcycles go. You can find a great option that will probably weigh somewhere between 300 and 500 lbs.
The next option you can consider are cruiser class motorcycles. As their name implies, these are meant for long drives and usually come with storage bags or a seat with a backrest that is more comfortable for longer duration rides.
While most cruisers will be a little more expensive and a bit heavier than the standard cousins, there are still a number of excellent options for beginners in this category. Sport and touring class bikes are also very popular options, but you should probably steer clear of those for now.
Sport bikes, as the name implies, are designed to go fast. They contain a lot of power in a small package, and it takes an experienced rider to be able to handle one safely. Touring bikes are cruisers on steroids. They’re larger, far heavier, and designed for cross-country treks.
Many riders have touring bikes for the simple joy of hitting the open road, picking a direction, and driving off into the distance. Touring bikes are something of an aspiration for many as they most clearly represent the adventurous image that surrounds motorcycling.
Touring bikes are very powerful and very heavy, and they’re also usually quite expensive. You’re not going to sleep too well at night if you drop and dent a $20,000 motorcycle as opposed to a $2,000 one. This brings us to our next point: buy a used motorcycle first!
You’re going to drop your first bike at some point. It almost seems to be an unwritten rule. You don’t want to drop an expensive bike, ever. Well, you don’t really want to drop any bike, but if it’s going to happen, it might as well be a cheaper one.
Once a bike has been dropped, it’s like finding an accident on a CarFax report. It’s going to be less valuable for resale or trade-ins and it might get scratched, dented, and damaged. Learn how to ride a high-quality, accessible motorcycle, and when you’re experienced, confident, and ready, treat yourself to a brand new one.
Learning to Ride Is Not as Hard as You Think
How hard is it to ride a motorcycle? It’s only as hard as you make it. The motorcycling community has come a long way from the rebellious, outlaw mystique that surrounded motorcycling in the early days.
With the advent of MSP classes and the growing accessibility of online educational resources, if you want to learn how to ride, it’s never been easier. While we have highlighted some of the dangers and pitfalls of motorcycling in this article, that isn’t to scare you off or cause you to second guess wanting to learn.
Riding is a fun and exciting hobby, but to ignore the realities is to do yourself a disservice. By taking the time to learn properly and professionally, as well as outfitting yourself with high-quality protective gear, you’ll see that learning to ride a motorcycle isn’t that hard at all.